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Hauksbee, Francis

1. Dates
Born: Colchester (?), c.1666
Died: London, May or June 1713
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 47
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Richard Hausbee was a draper in Colchester.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
No university education.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physics, Electricity
Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, 1709.
Sustained experimentation of electricity began with Hauksbee. He also performed important experiments on capillary phenomena. Also on the propagation of sound in compressed and rarified air, on freezing of water, and on elastic rebound. He measured specific gravities and refractive indices. He investigated the law of magnetic attraction and the time of fall through air.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Merchant, Art, Scientific Society
Secondary: Schoolmastering, Publishing
Apprenticed in the trade to his older brother, 1678-87.
Ran his own shop, 1687-1703--this appears to mean a retail shop. He was a small merchant.
Guerlac speculates (on the basis of fragmentary evidence) that Hauksbee may have been Boyle's assistant.
Hauksbee emerged out of obscurity at the meeting of the Royal Society on 15 Dec. 1703. He became the Royal Society's paid performer of experiments from that time until his death, though he was never formally the Curator of Experiments. Apparently he had already made himself known to some people as an experimenter. We know that he was giving demonstrations in his shop in 1704 and in 1710 was offering public lectures. He also made and sold instruments--e.g., cupping glasses used in surgery, air pumps, and barometers.
Hauksbee published Physico-Mechanical Experiments himself and sold the copies from his home.
8. Patronage
Types: Scientist, Aristrocrat
The Royal Society--or better, Newton, who stood behind his appointment to the society.
Hauksbee dedicated Physico-Mechanical Experiments to Lord Somers, former President of the Royal Society.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Instruments
Scientific instruments for physical experiments--an improved air pump (though no one seems able to define precisely what Hauksbee's improvements were), and what was, in effect, the first static electric or frictional electric machine, a glass globe mounted on an axle, and also a primitive electroscope to detect electric charges.
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
He collaborated with Newton on experiments at the Royal Society, and influenced some of Newton's ideas, both with his capillary and with his electrical experiments.
Royal Society, 1705-13.
  1. Duane Roller and Duane H.D. Roller, The Development of the Concept of Electrical Charge (a volume in J.B. Conant, Case Histories in Experimental Science), (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 17-29. Duane H.D. Roller, "Introduction," to Hauksbee, Physico-Mechanical Experiments on Various Subjects, (New York, 1970). pp. ix- xxix.
  2. W.B. Hardy, "Historical Notes upon Surface Energy and Forces of Short Range," Nature, 109 (1922), 375-8.
  3. E.C. Millington, "Studies in Capillarity and Cohesion in the Eighteenth Century," Annals of Science, 5 (1945), 352-69.
  4. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50) 9, 171. E.G.R. Taylor, Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England, (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 296-7.
  5. Henry Guerlac, "Francis Hauksbee: Expérimentateur au profit de Newton," Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences, 16 (1963), 113-28.
  6. _____, "Sir Isaac and the Ingenious Mr. Hauksbee," in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré, ed. I.B. Cohen and René Taton, (Paris, 1964), 1, 228-53.
  7. _____, "Newton's Optical Aether," Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 22 (1967), 45-57.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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